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October 2000


A look at a Germany under Roman rule

Rosenheim’s exhibition center, Lokschuppen, is a somewhat curious semicircular building with austere brick walls.It started its career as an engine shed in 1858, became storage space for the city in 1876 and was turned into a modern cultural center in 1988.
Since then, the edifice has housed a number of fascinating shows, with topics ranging from dinosaurs and whales to a historically oriented trilogy organized by the State of Bavaria and the City of Rosenheim: “The Bavarians” (1988), “The Celts” (1993) and now “Römer — zwischen Alpen und Nordmeer” (“The Romans — Between the Alps and the North Sea”).
From the outside, the Lokschuppen museum still has something of a 19th-century industrial air about it. Once inside, the visitor is transported back to the year 15 BC via three legions of tin soldiers.Roman soldiers fight their way through the eerie shadows of a forest covered with frost and snow. With the Alps at their backs, they forge ahead into the hostile and barbaric world of the Germanic tribes.For the viewer, the 20-m-long showcase is the beginning of an intriguing journey through 400 years of Roman rule in the Germanic area between the Alps and the North Sea.
The Roman conquest of the Germanic territory was not always easy. The toy soldier display conveys just how awesome the highly proficient, professional army of Rome must have appeared to its enemies. Still, when trying to make the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine pay tribute to the Roman emperor, this powerful army was ambushed and defeated by the Teutons in AD 9. Most of the artifacts in the museum’s first section come from the military camps established by the Romans during the conquest. These include weapons and elaborate parade armor as well as articles of everyday life, such as fishing tackle or a marvelous blue glass cup, which somehow made its way from Syria to the military base at Kempten, probably as a souvenir of a soldier who sojourned in the East.
All Roman settlements had a so-called forum, a central area where markets and public meetings were held. The pillar of Jove, or Jupiter, the supreme god in Roman mythology, marks the center of the forum re-created at the Lokschuppen.This pivotal point of the community is creatively brought to life with the help of life-size houses and shop fronts, where everyday items are on display. Almost everything can be found there, from a traveler’s sundial to an exquisite collection of pins — an important accessory at a time when the button had not yet been invented. Next to the shops is a public kitchen complete with all kinds of Roman food, pottery and, of course, the statuettes of the house gods worshiped in Roman religion. As poorer families did not have fireplaces then, public houses and so-called tavernae were of vital importance. In tavernae, said the writer Juvenile, one would meet “murderers, sailors, thieves and slaves.”
Much of what we know about Roman life today comes from excavated graves. The burial offerings tell us not only about the social standing of the deceased — as seen in a display of the grave contents of a wealthy woman from Wehringen — but also about his or her profession. Medical instruments found in a dentist’s grave, for instance, illustrate just that.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the section on cult and religion, especially the life-size reconstruction of a Mithras shrine, with its two-sided painted altar and its splendid ceiling.The Mithras cult was the chief rival to the newly emerging religion of Christianity. The Roman emperors Commodus and Julian were initiates of Mithraism, and in 307 Diocletian consecrated a temple on the Danube River to the Indo-Persian sun god Mithra, “protector of the empire.” The mystical quality of the religion takes on an almost tangible form in the quiet atmosphere of the shrine displayed here. How extensive this empire was becomes apparent when you take a closer look at the tabula peutingeriana, a map of the most important roads of the Roman world. Schematic and distorted, the map is a challenge, even to the experienced mapreader!
What makes this exhibition a special experience — in addition to the fact that the objects on display are carefully and sensibly chosen and presented in a well-structured way — is that it involves all the senses. From the uneven tilt of the floor to the background music to the collection of Roman helmets to try on — everything invites you not just to look at the past from a distance, but to travel through it.

“Romans – Between the Alps and the North Sea,” until Nov. 5, Lokschuppen, Rathausstr. 24, Rosenheim, Tel. (08031) 365 90 36. Fri.-Wed. 9-18, Thurs. 9-20. Hourly trains to Rosenheim from Munich. By car: A8 Munich – Salzburg. Further information (in German), at

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